PORTLAND, Ore. – There is a lot in the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health System’s (OAHHS) policy package that Oregon’s nurses support. We agree that expanding the health care provider incentive to include registered nurses and licensed practical nurses is an excellent way to support Oregon’s health care workforce. We agree that the state of Oregon should extend tax credits to nurses to encourage them to become educators. We also support creating state-funded clinical training incentives as a means of offering more opportunities for clinical placements for nursing students. These are all excellent legislative priorities that will have a positive impact in the long run, and ONA nurses support these and other long-term solutions.
But OAHHS’s legislative priorities dance around the core issue facing Oregon’s health care providers and patients in every corner of our state right now: our ongoing, decades-long nurse staffing crisis.
Nothing in OAHHS’s legislative priorities gets to the core of our current crisis: nurses are burned out and leaving the bedside in truly devastating numbers all because of the untenable working conditions they face from unsafe staffing levels.
Yes, Oregon does need to address workforce and health care staff pipeline challenges, and we need to do so urgently. It is telling, however, that hospitals are advancing a series of legislative priorities that do nothing to address the current, present-day crisis we face.
Frankly, hospitals are to blame for this crisis and have failed to provide meaningful leadership or solutions for decades. Nurses bear the burden of those failures every day, on every shift, and so do patients. It is also contradictory to say they want to “improve” Oregon’s existing nurse staffing law while being in opposition to House Bill 2967 (HB 2697) which would have an immediate impact on improving working conditions and patient outcomes.
Oregon had a staffing nurse turnover problem long before the pandemic. As huge hospital conglomerates swallowed up local hospitals, executives cut staffing to cut costs, and then gave themselves big bonuses and sank profits into the stock market. Simply put, Oregon’s hospitals put profits and Wall Street investments ahead of nurses, health care workers and patients.
From the moment COVID-19 reached Oregon, nurses put their lives on the line to care for the sick patients who flooded our hospitals. While administrators often worked from the comfort and safety of home, nurses did their best in overflowing ERs and ICUs. Instead of improving working conditions, management threw pizza parties. After nearly three years of constant pressure, trauma and grief, countless health care workers simply could not continue. Our colleagues left the bedside in search of safer working conditions, better pay and more respect.
That’s why nurses and frontline health care workers are calling on the Oregon Legislature to take action through HB 2697.
By putting real safe staffing standards into law, Oregon can create safer workplaces and provide nurses the conditions to give every patient the care they deserve. Studies show that when minimum staffing rules are in place, nurses are happier, healthier and stay in their jobs longer. If we improve conditions, many who have left the field may return, creating an influx of experienced workers that directly addresses the “nursing shortage.”
Passing safe staffing standards is one of the most powerful steps we can take to address Oregon’s worsening hospital staffing crisis and prevent a complete collapse of our state’s health care system. To see OAHHS ignore this reality in their recent package of legislative priorities is not surprising, but it is still deeply disappointing.
ONA looks forward to working with OAHHS on those legislative priorities that will, one day, have a positive impact on the nursing workforce. Until that time, we invite OAHHS to do the real work that is needed, right now, today, and support the passage of HB 2697. More information on the bill, and the many ways it will improve the health of Oregonians and working conditions for nurses, can be found online at www.SafeStaffingSavesLives.com.
The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) is the state’s largest and most influential nursing organization. We are a professional association and labor union which represents more than 15,000 nurses and allied health workers throughout the state. ONA’s mission is to advocate for nursing, quality health care and healthy communities. For more information visit: www.OregonRN.org.